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As Iran's Coronavirus Death Toll Rises, Neighbors Close Borders, Impose Travel Bans

Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport. FILE PHOTO

Iranian authorities reported two more deaths from the deadly coronavirus, bringing the country's death toll to eight -- the highest such toll outside the disease's epicenter in China.

Speaking February 23 on state TV, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said a total of 15 new confirmed cases had been reported across the country, bringing the overall figure to 43.

Jahanpur gave no details on the new deaths, including when they occurred. But Iranian media earlier cited Abbas Mousavi, the head of the Medical Science University in the northern province of Mazandaran, as saying that an unnamed person who had traveled from the capital, Tehran, to the regional capital of Tonekabon had died.

Iran has reported more fatalities from coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, than any other country aside from China. In all, there are 785 suspected cases across Iran, the Health Ministry reported on February 22 -- a number is likely to grow.

Jahanpour earlier was quoted by the DPA news agency as saying that of the newly detected cases, two were in Tehran, and eight were in the city of Qom, 120 kilometers south of Tehran.

Authorities have steadily imposed more restrictions on public spaces and travel, in an effort to curtail the disease's spread.

Religious pilgrimages to neighboring Iraq have been suspended, one unnamed official told the semi-official Fars news agency. The Health Ministry has closed schools and universities in several cities, along with movie theaters. Theater and concert events have been cancelled. Professional soccer games will be played as planned but without spectators.

Minoo Mohraz, a Health Ministry official, said on February 21 that the virus may have spread from Chinese workers working in Qom, where a Chinese company has been building a solar-power plant.

Turkey, Pakistan, and Armenia temporary closed their land borders with Iran due to coronavirus on February 23, while Afghanistan suspended travel to and from Iran.

An emergency situation has been declared in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, which has a long frontier with Iran.

Officials in Balochistan suspended almost all traffic across the Taftan border crossing with Iran.

In Ankara, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said that eight people have been refused entry to Turkey from Iran since February 21, when Turkey introduced health checks on travelers at frontier crossings.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian announced on Facebook that Yerevan will close the border with Iran for two weeks and suspend flights.

Pashinian said his cabinet will hold a meeting on February 24 to discuss further measures.

Afghanistan’s Health Ministry said that three suspected cases of coronavirus have been reported in the western province of Herat. The three Herat residents had returned from the city of Qom in neighboring Iran and are currently in "isolation," the ministry said.

The country’s National Security Council tweeted: "To prevent the spread of the novel #coronavirus and protect the public, Afghanistan suspends all passenger movement (air and ground) to and from Iran.”

Jordan also on February 23 began denying entry of non-Jordanians coming from Iran.

Infected travelers from Iran already have been discovered in Canada and Lebanon.

Earlier in the week, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia suspended most flights to Iran.

In China, where the virus emerged, more than 2,300 people have died. Another large cluster has been detected in South Korea, whose president raised the nation's alert to its "highest" level on February 23 after the number of infections nearly tripled over the weekend to 556.

Based reporting by dpa, Reuters, AP, AFP, RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, Armenian Service, Radio Mashaal